Quad Dominance - what is it, and how to solve it

I think I've cracked it. (No pun intended.) I think I've done it. I reckon I've managed to find the perfect balance between working glutes and becoming Quadzilla. The latter of which is territory of which I am all too familiar with.

Firstly, a caveat. This is not to say that squats make your legs 'bulky'. Squats are a fantastic exercise for postural and functional health, in addition to increasing levels of testosterone and being a great source of empowerment upon completion. But it isn't as simple as 'women can't get bulky like men do!!111' when it comes to a) personal preferences and b) the comparison of gaining muscle from whence before they had none. At this point, I would like to point my readers to this great article by Bret Contreras. Squats are a fantastic exercise for increasing overall muscle mass and helping athleticism and aesthetics.  Also bear in mind the fact many people will be training to lean out and drop fat - squats are king at this, for their ability to work more than one joint at a  time and calorie burn compared to isolation exercises.

Nonetheless, muscular imbalances can and will happen to the best of us which sets us up for tension being held in the body and stress in our lives as an overall factor. Quad dominance generally occurs due to a multitude of factors - but the main ones are overreaching certain training of body parts, neglecting mobility work, genetics, (some people will just have tighter hips than others as a hereditary condition) and failing to train the posterior chain (butt and back) correctly. It is why you should be pragmatic in your programming and not just rely on the latest trendy Insta video of your favourite middle-class Brunch Babe showcasing the latest in cringe-worthy squat variation (bodyweight, mind you) for your fitness goals.

But I think the problem is a bit more nuanced than 'keep on squatting and just adjust your diet'. Instead, as Contreras mentions, you should be doing things in addition your regular squat training to attain muscular balance. Muscular imbalance isn't muy bueno, particular in the vein of quad dominance, which can create muscle tightness, weaker hamstrings and glutes, and consequently knee injuries.

Anterior pelvic tilts can occur from suffering from tight hip flexors (and quads) tugging at the pelvis. Exaggerated lumbar spine are, surprisingly, quite often the culprit of having quad dominance in your life (see, bottom of article). Moreover, I still think squats are a fantastic exercise - you just need to add variations, or train accordingly to your own personal aesthetic and athletic goals. Of course, we need to be considering as a way to minimise risk of injury or discomfort in daily function too - so if you feel as though your quads are getting tighter, and your glutes weaker, it might be time to take another look at that program of yours.

Whilst I don't recommend taking squats out of the equation completely, if you feel as if you are veering into quad dominant-territory, there's no issue in taking heavy barbell squats out of the picture for a few weeks and see how you feel.

"Yes, perfect! Any excuse to get out of training my legs..."

Not so fast.

We would be replacing them, of course, with the appropriate exercises for glute and leg work, such as barbell hip thrusts, back extensions, good mornings, or romanian deadlifts. There will always be people - such as myself - who tend to gain mass in the quads very easily. This is easily corrected by simply shifting your routines to focus mostly on the glutes and posterior chain in general. Squat variations, such as Bulgarian split squats, are great examples of keeping the lower body push movement in whilst avoiding too much  stress on the quads. Odds are, once you've strengthened your glutes and loosened up your quads and hip flexors, you might find that you can start squatting again, and that you've improved your form to the point where you can hit the rack again without too many worries of reaching quad dominance. 

Yes, this is a picture of my butt. Yes, these are space pants. No, my quad-glute ratio wasn't always this balanced.

Yes, this is a picture of my butt. Yes, these are space pants. No, my quad-glute ratio wasn't always this balanced.

 

Less focus on quads = more balanced physique (and far less likelihood of injury!)

An example of a range of posterior chain/glute-based exercises would be something like this. I would recommend sticking to these sets and rep times, being mindful of squeezing the glutes at the top of the movements (the isometric squeeze is where so much of the magic happens!) and slowly increasing either your sets or weights per week in order to build glute muscle and create balance in your body.

RDL - 10 x 4, 60 second rest between sets

Kettlebell swings - 15 x 3, 60 second rest between sets

Back extensions - 12 x 3, 60 second rest between sets

Bulgarian split squats (with the stance spread out wide so the knees don't go over the toes and with an emphasis on feeling the glute contraction.) 10 x 3, each leg, 60 second rest between sets

Barbell hip thrusts - 8 x 4, 60 seconds between each set.

(Note: order of when you perform deadlift can be changed to suit your own biomechanics and lower back flexibility.)

There are plenty of ways to help strengthen the glutes and hip flexors, of course.  Exercises such as bodyweight glute bridges, single-leg glute bridges, and various quad/hip flexor stretches will all help in this area. I really recommend yoga for (one of the many reasons) ways to improve your flexibility, muscular balance, and stave off injury. Opening up your hips will also ensure your body doesn't compensate during squatting and place your weight of gravity over your quads. You'll find the more mobile in the right areas you are (psoas, quads, calves etc) the more effective you'll be at squatting.

And, as it goes without saying on this blog, training your butt isn't just for show. (Although, yeah, sure, having a badonkadonk sure helps in the evolutionary mating system grand scheme of things.) On a metaphorical level (sorry) your glutes are your foundation for everything you do; sitting, standing, walking, jumping, running, dancing...in essence, helping you live your life. They keep you grounded in the most literal sense possible. Going by the logic that body and mind are connected, the act of building strong, balanced glutes will enable you to transfer that concept into your everyday responsibilities and tasks. Having a strong foundation in every aspect of your life will enable you to carry out your goals and feel invigorated towards being a more productive, confident, and empowered person. On a more pragmatic stance, strong muscles also have been shown to reduce your risk of depression too by filtering toxins from the brain; a compound called PGC-1 alpha 1 prompts the body to make more mitochondria and blood vessels, resulting in a protective effect against neurological disorders and mental illness. 

Of course, training is extremely individual, so it's ultimately down to you and your own goals,  biomechanics, and training preferences. If adjusting your leg workout will make you train harder and smarter, then by all means shift your program's focus. Above all, retain the squat - it is king, like I've said - but adjust to your individual sessions. You can always put an exercise back in, too, if you find you miss the thrill of the squat rack after too long.

 
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